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3 Strange Bjj Customs

Every subculture has its own set of customs and sometimes they can appear to be quite strange to outsiders. Surfers, rock climbers and chess players all have their own set of specialized gear, terminology and rituals.

How do these arise?
Many of these customs have been passed from one practitioner to another for so long, the origin has been lost.

What do they signify?
Are they born out of superstitions?

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is no different.

To a new initiate to bjj culture there are a few things that may cause some head scratching for newcomers to the art.
* Not all academies adhere to these customs, but to those who have been around different academies for any length of time, they will have seen them.

read also: Are You a Martial Artist?


1) Oss!

Likely Japanese in origin, you will hear oss used in different ways in a bjj academy.
–  Following the instructors demonstration of the technique, he says “ok guys, lets go try!” and a loud, collective “Osss!” sounds across the mat
–  After changing out of your gi and heading out of the doors you turn around and wave good bye to your training partners and they shout “Osss!” in farewell
–  Your instructor stops to impart some training encouragement or wisdom and the students acknowledge the words

“The famous “OSS” has many origins...

The second definition of “OSS”, also known as “ossu” ( it doesn’t matter how you spell it in English), means Oshi Shinobu,  which conveys the idea (the literal translation has nothing to do with the context) of “persevering when pushed”, or in other words,  never give up, have determination, grit and withstand the most arduous of training.

“Carrying on without giving up, under all kinds of pressure – that’s the idea of inner strength so common in Asian culture.” Source: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Albania FB

The “Osss!” signifies a the spirit of solidarity among the team. All recognizing the message and working together!

2) Belt whipping

When a student graduates from one belt to another, some academies mark the accomplishment by making the new belt walk the belt whipping gauntlet.
The students line of the length of the mat on either side forming a corridor.
The new belt walks slowly through the length of the line while their classmates use their folded belts to “whip” the new belt on the back.

The spirit should be in good fun.

This practice has been criticized by many in the bjj community due to the severity of some of the whippings.
It seems that some of the students get…ahem…”over enthusiastic” and whip very hard leaving marks.
I saw a recent photo online where new belts in one academy showed their bare backs displaying multiple purple welts in precisely the shape of a belt.
It is doubtful that those students were really upset by the belt whipping,, but it seems excessive and unnecessary to cause contusions.
I have also heard of people being whipped across the face by a mistimed swing and suffering an eye injury.

By all means, have some fun celebrating the new belt graduation, but keep things playful!

The Gracie Barra Association does not ALLOW it on Gracie Barra Schools. It is not safe and there is a high risk of injuring involved.

3) the BJJ Fist Bump
Who knows how this universal sign of beginning a roll got started?

Seems possible that it could have originated between surfers on the beaches of Rio and carried over to the bjj academy?

But no matter where in the world 2 opponents face each other ready to roll – even if neither speaks a single word of the other’s language (maybe Osss!?) – the slap and fist bump means “Let’s roll!”

But more than simply signifying the beginning of the match it also communicates a mutual respect and unspoken agreement that it is a friendly competition, nothing personal.

While it is possible to compete hard with one another, pushing each other’s limits, that mutual respect must underly the roll. There is the spirit to try to choke or arm lock, yet always protect your partner and adhere to the rules of the sport.

After a tap, you straighten your kimono, re tie your belt and fist bump: “Ok, you got me. Now let’s try again!”

read also: Why Do You Train Jiu-jitsu?

What bjj customs do you practice in your jiu-jitsu academy?

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Asia
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ

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